Moving Forward in 2019

Dear Western Community:

Happy New Year, and welcome back to campus!  I hope that you had a great holiday break, with ample opportunity to recharge and enjoy time with family and friends. 

As we enter winter quarter and a new year, I’d like to share some of the priorities that are of highest importance to me, and invite you to share your thoughts, suggestions and questions on these priorities below.  I hope you’ll check back often to learn about progress and share your suggestions as we move forward together in a spirit of determination to make lasting change and progress of which we can all be proud.

Here are the top priorities I see for Winter 2019:

Working with students of marginalized identities to productively address their expressed needs and concerns.  Since the student demonstration in the President’s Office and the student-led forum in the beginning of December, I have reflected a great deal with other senior administrators about the many distressing student stories that we heard, the ways that Western must immediately, and in the longer term, improve its policies, procedures, and climate to address unmet student needs and concerns, and how our community can work together productively to create inclusive and lasting culture change. 

Let me start by saying that Western is absolutely committed to creating a more inclusive and equitable community.  This is my highest priority.  There are specific goals and metrics about equity and inclusion embedded in our strategic plan which address many of the needs advanced by students at the forum in December.  Several university-wide initiatives are underway to advance these goals, though I will be the first to admit that we must do a better job of engaging students and faculty members in solutions, and we must do a better job of communicating how these goals are progressing.  The rate of change at Western with respect to equity and inclusion has been slow, starting with access, and we have missed opportunities to accelerate it.  We need to own that.  And we will only succeed in achieving our aspirations to become the kind of community we want to be if every member of the Western community is committed to being part of the change. 

Since the end of December, I have been meeting, and I will continue to meet with, clubs and academic affiliation groups for marginalized students to learn more about their unique needs and concerns, and the ways that Western can address them.  Going forward, Vice President Melynda Huskey and I will be meeting with these groups several times throughout the academic year, as I believe these more intimate dialogues provide the best opportunities to learn about unique concerns and work together productively to address them.  And, we will be increasing the frequency and clarity of communication with campus about the progress on actions we have taken, and plans for future action.  We will continue to focus and refine our agenda on activities that bring lasting change.  Our current work includes revisiting our procedures and protocols around discrimination complaints and interim suspensions and communications; expanding the Provost’s Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Hiring Initiative; and advancing student recruitment and success initiatives.  I encourage you to check this blog regularly for updates on our progress.

Advancing Western’s priorities during the 2019 Legislative Session.  For the upcoming 2019-2021 biennial budget Western has three key priorities:

Competitive compensation for faculty and staff: In order to retain and attract high quality faculty and staff Western has requested $15.3 million to fully fund negotiated contracts with classified staff and to provide a 4% per year compensation increase for all faculty and professional staff.

Expanding STEM capacity: Western is experiencing unprecedented growth in the number of students majoring in STEM degree programs.  At the same time, employers in Washington’s technology sector report a critical need for STEM-educated workers, according to the 2017 Report Card from the Washington State STEM Education Innovation Alliance.  Washington ranks #46 in the nation -- and last among high-tech-intensive states -- in the proportion of high school graduates who go directly to college.  To address this, the Alliance is pressing for expanded postsecondary STEM education and financial aid with a focus on equitable access and retention.  For our part, Western has requested $7.6 million to address high-demand STEM program expansion (Electrical Engineering, Pre-health Sciences and Energy Technology), including pre-advising and cohort support models for improved outcomes for underserved students.

Construction funding for an Interdisciplinary Sciences Building and design funding for a new Electrical Engineering/Computer Science Building: To support expansion in STEM capacity, Western has also requested $60 million for the construction of a 50,000 square foot interdisciplinary science building.  We are also requesting $6.5 million in design funding to plan a 50,000 square foot building to address capacity needs in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.  For this latter building there may also be potential to leverage public-private partnerships for fundraising. 

During the session, Western will also be pursuing funding to improve Career-Connected Learning by expanding career counseling services, funding to address the State’s teacher shortage by increasing the number of WWU education graduates by 200 each year, and funding to update critical wired and wireless networks throughout campus. 

Starting with the Governor’s budget, released in December 2018, which includes funding for two of our capital priorities and approximately half our STEM-focused operational request, we will be working with the legislature to seek full funding for our operational and capital needs.

Advancing the Student Success Initiative, raising money for merit and need-based scholarships, study abroad scholarships, and undergraduate research opportunities.  Reflected in the three core themes of Western’s strategic plan—Advancing Inclusive Success, Increasing Washington Impact, and Enhancing Academic Excellence—is our commitment to the idea that higher education is a public good that should be accessible to all qualified students.  In order to make this idea a reality for more students, the WWU Foundation is committed to raising at least $10 million over the next three years for merit- and need-based scholarships, study abroad scholarships, and scholarships for undergraduate research opportunities. 

Completion of the Institutional Resource Modeling Process, including further exploration of WWU expansion on the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas.  This fall I charged a President’s Advisory Committee on Institutional Resource Modeling, including representation from faculty, staff, students, and administrators, to work on a resource planning process to ensure that Western’s new strategic plan is connected to a realistic sense of the funding required to advance its goals and objectives.  That committee has been working on areas critically important to the achievement of strategic plan goals such as increasing retention and graduation rates, increasing research and creative activity, and addressing current shortfalls in operational funding.  Working with the professionals in academic affairs, business affairs, and enrollment and student support services, this broadly representative committee is helping to guide the development of a set of resource scenarios that will inform the ways Western approaches revenue generating strategies.  The final work of the committee will be presented to the Board of Trustees at its regular meeting in June.  You can learn more about the Committee’s change, membership, timeline, processes, and communication plan at https://provost.wwu.edu/resource-modeling.

This winter a new working group within the Resource Modeling Committee will be created to develop a set of resource scenarios related to the feasibility of expanding Western’s presence on the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas, directly related to the strategic plan theme of Increasing Washington Impact.  This follows on the recent completion of a feasibility study funded by the Legislature in the 2018 session.  Starting in May and continuing throughout the summer and fall, Western worked with a consultant to document current and future higher educational needs on the Peninsulas, convene regional stakeholders, and explore the feasibility of several higher education delivery options.  While the feasibility study report confirmed several themes consistent with Western’s experience delivering education for over two decades in Port Angeles, Bremerton, and Poulsbo, it was determined that a more comprehensive assessment of the capacity and resource needs for successful expansion was required.  The institutional resource modeling process already underway provides an ideal environment to conduct this additional assessment.  We will also engage our community college partners on the Peninsulas in order to address systemic issues throughout the K- 16 pipeline related to academic preparedness, aspirational awareness, and affordability.  The complete Peninsulas expansion feasibility study report and more information about next steps is available on the Provost’s website: https://provost.wwu.edu/wwu-peninsulas-feasibility-study.

These are only a few of the many important initiatives and priorities underway at Western.  The thing they all have in common is a commitment to inclusive student success and increasing our impact in the state.  I am continually inspired by the energy and engagement of our campus community in making Western a better place, and I am grateful for the partnership among our students, faculty and staff in making lasting progress.  I welcome your thoughts and ideas, and know that we will make Western stronger by working together, and being united in our purpose.

Sincerely,

Sabah

Comments

There is no department or program offered on campus that provides resources for pregnant students.
It is not considered covered under the disability resource center. Nor does Student Outreach Services or the Women's center have answers.
I feel parking is a large issue for pregnant students because if you have a C lot parking permit but classes in the Humanities building for example that is a long ways to walk when you're in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy.
Furthermore, there is no accommodations for students test taking other than arranging it with the professor and what is covered my Title IX (such as no discriminating).
Also, the breast feeding areas on campus should be more accessible. Signing up for a time and checking out a key isnt really convenient because babies decide when they want to eat, not based off a scheduled time.
It would be nice to at least have a place to go to get answers on resources.

Haley, I want to thank you for your comment. I have had two pregnancies/children during my tenure as an employee here and must agree that this campus is woefully behind when it comes to resources for breastfeeding parents.

Boost

Also, are there note taking resources for mothers that bring their children? A mother is likely to have their hands full and having someone, like a classmate, take notes for them would be great.

One of my favorite designers (and people) designed this small, private, modular breastfeeding space with situations exactly like yours in mind...

https://www.mamava.com

I don't know how much they cost, just that was designed to be affordable enough for a small business (like a design firm) to buy and install one for breastfeeding Moms to have their own space. So I would imagine Western could find both the budget and a few places to install these pretty easily.

Food for thought? If anyone wants more info, I am happy to provide an intro to one of the designers behind the project.

Hope this helps!

~Julia

Thanks for submitting your comments about resources for pregnant students, Haley. Western is working to improve its communication to students about how to access resources, and on making more “one stop shops” to coordinate the various resources and services involved. The University’s obligation to provide resources and protections for pregnant and parenting students falls under Title IX, which resides in the Equal Opportunity Office. The person to contact regarding pregnancy-related accommodations is the Title IX Coordinator, Dr. Sue Guenter-Schlesinger (http://www.wwu.edu/eoo/titleix.shtml), who works with pregnant students to create accommodation plans to meet their needs, including for accessible parking. We now have in place a process that will enable pregnant students to park closer to buildings where they have classes, and Dr. Guenter-Schlesinger can help make this easier for students. The EO Office will be creating new online and print materials to advertise these and other services in the near future.

As Earth continues to be assaulted by human overreach, greed, and myopia, and given that our university has the oldest environmental college in the country, why not even a peep about addressing climate change? This can and must be done at every level. We need to publicly and broadly assert that that climate responsibility is the core of our mission, commit to reinvesting our investments portfolio out of fossil fuels as soon as possible, and work together to make a healthy planet central to college and department curriculum as well as WWU non-academic affairs. We are not dealing with "just one more issue." As we face both present and future suffering and mass extinctions, delay and lip service are unacceptable.

As U.S. governance grinds to a halt - out of timidity to call tyranny for what it is becoming, obligatory amnesia that is encouraged by power structures and vapid media coverage, and public fixation and fear of bullying and tantrums that mask as leadership - the President of Western has an obligation to assert leadership and courage of our University in confronting falsehoods, affirming that policies must be based on facts and science, and preparing students for lives of activism and civic responsibility. We need your voice not only in speaking truth to misguided assertions of power, but also in affirming the commons, democracy, and wellbeing for all.

hi james,
I totally feel your points here. The administration and student body both need to be treating this as a serious issue. And in a lot of ways we are, and deserve credit for that. I know a lot of students who are active in composting, freecycling, walk/use public transit, are vegetarian, all the ways we're told to reduce our carbon footprint.

(If you want my hot take there, I think reducing how much plastic you use daily, is as important as calculating some 'carbon number' -- a best guess based on statistics. But both are important and not too hard!)

The campus also has many classes in sustainability, has completely transitioned vehicle design into ecars, hosts sustainability design challenges, and has many arts/music programs relating climate change and it's effects to us on a relatable, emotional level.

But we are still seeing these accelerating changes, based on unrelenting destruction of natural environments.

There are many ways to get involved on and off campus. I hope to see y'all out there in the trenches, you really build up a great feeling of comrade when you're fighting the collapse.

Do you track retention and graduation rates of students with disabilities specifically? If not, why not?

To give more context, I've seen many of my peers with depression suffer academic and financial consequences as a result of their illness, such as class failure and other matters which affect their financial aid status and, therefore, their ability to graduate. Given that a significant proportion of our students struggle with depression, is anything specifically being done to specifically monitor their graduation rates?

Much thanks,
Serena

Thanks for your questions, Serena. In the past Western has not tracked retention and graduation rates for students with disabilities, for several reasons. Retention and graduation for students with disabilities is not a category for which higher education benchmarking data sets (such as IPEDS) require us to submit information, so institutions have not tracked this data in the past. Also, many students who ultimately use Disability Access Services do not disclose disability status information during the application process and may not seek disability accommodations at Western until well into their education.

Since tracking of retention and graduation rates for students with disabilities has been brought up by several individuals and such data can help inform institutional efforts to support the success of students with disabilities, we are working on a way to track this data, though it may take some time and effort due to potential changes to our database tracking systems.

I'm happy that there are several new initiatives regarding diversity. I certainly think we can do more to attract and retain diverse faculty. To increase retention, especially among URM faculty, the following could also be considered:

1) Develop a fund to (a) pay for URM hires, essentially giving departments and additional faculty line, and (b) pay for spousal hires of diverse faculty at any point in their careers (ie. an actual Hiring Initiative for Dual-Career Couples). Report yearly on successful/unsuccessful hires.

2) Provide monetary rewards for time spent advising diverse students or serving on committees in need of diverse representation; travel funds for mentoring and networking; and junior faculty meeting groups;

3) Provide central funds to enhance the salaries of outstanding underrepresented faculty whose salary is significantly below market;

4) Enhance recognition for URM faculty excellence at the college level, including appointments to endowed chair positions;

5) Provide a program to help URM faculty buy a home in Bellingham and establish community connections.

6) Monitoring and reporting on pay equity of URM faculty.

I think these considerations, and certainly others, will help hire and retain URM faculty such as myself.

Regards,
Dr. Bruna
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
http://SeanBruna.com

Thanks for your insightful suggestions and comments, Sean. Recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority faculty is a lead metric in Western’s new strategic plan (https://provost.wwu.edu/overall-metrics), and critical to advancing the success of our increasingly diverse student body.

Your suggestions reflect the complexity of the issue, from dual-career accommodations to housing affordability, and recognizing the important work of mentoring students of color with monetary rewards. They also reflect the need for the university’s shared governance structures to work together to advance the issue. For example, some of your suggestions about differential compensation (#2,3,6) might relate to Section 22 of the WWU/UFWW Collective Bargaining Agreement, which would need to be amended to include them. Other targeted recruitment and retention strategies, such as preferentially offering dual career assistance packages (#1) or housing assistance (#5) if done exclusively on the basis of certain identity categories, could potentially conflict with anti-discrimination laws.

These are complicated issues and the intent of your suggestions is most appreciated. Our Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs started the Provost’s Diversity Hiring Initiative (http://www.wwu.edu/eoo/winter2018/hiringinitiative.shtml) last academic year as a pilot program for eight searches and it has been expanded this year to 15 faculty searches. We understand this is just one piece of a broader effort to address recruitment and retention going forward.

Dear Sabah, and to any one reading this-
May these words ring resonant in your heart some of the deep truth I intend. May you also feel some of the sorrow that is woven in these words as well.

While reading the goals I couldn't help but think, what about future generations? What obligation and responsibility do wealthy institutions like WWU have to enact equity in a TRUE way?

This current addiction to STEM and electronic technology will not save us from the fact that 80% of the globe has been touched/decimated/ravaged, and subverted to human needs with little to no regard to our non-human relations. The unspoken belief/philosophy in WWU's mission and vision continues to be one predicated on human-centered long term economic viability and growth. Last I checked growth for the sake of growth is a cancerous tumor.

I am disappointed to note that in the plans going ahead to encourage "diversity" there is no mention of socio-economics. The rural parts of this country, where those with hand skills and land based ways of living are aging out as we speak (the average age of the American farmer is 55, with no young person to take up the hoe or plow), are suffering deeply, as youth flee for "opportunity," (promoted through the crazed insistence on 1-1 devices and social media), in a nebulous race for "more," and "success." As a native of South Carolina, I see this impoverishment keenly, and know that true equity must extend across races to include the impoverished white as well.

Socio-economic status is one of the biggest issues this country faces at this time, as well as climate change. Why are there no concessions or acknowledgement of what is truly at stake? Yes, we need to continue to have uncomfortable conversations about race, but if there is no synthesis tied to WHY these conversations are important, there is no learning. I cannot think of a time in life when my staying comfortable my learning. WWU could lead the way to be a university dedicated to a paradigm shift that centers race, justice, indigenous rights, reparations, resilience, a move away from oil based technologies, and healing in the face of climate change, as the wave of generational trauma that so many are waking up too, floods us. We must move away from raping the Earth as a strategy for human comfort, which is precisely where this emphasis on STEM and on continual growth (what is the end goal exactly?) has already taken us.

If you are reading this I ask you, did you eat today? Did you breathe? Did you drink water? Who grew that food? What do we owe them? We seem to have forgotten the basic care of these very elements that enable us to even have the privilege to dream. As we have moved away from any sense of responsibility and care for our non-human kin, we are destroying ourselves because of it, and stealing from future generations, like my 9 year old son and his peers.

WWU could instead invest this STEM money into the Outback farm, or even better create a college (s) dedicated to teaching humans how to be humans; where students learn basic LIFE skills: caring for different ages, seed saving, mending, making, they learn about birth, sex, death, care for the sick, care for the dying, how to slaughter an animal, plant a garden, fix a car, build a house, how to cook, forage, and make herbal medicine. The education system, as a whole, in the United States is incredibly impoverished when it comes to teaching young people how to fully come alive, which I believe means being in service to the world around them.

We must expand our self centered view of what is a human right to the true understanding, that we have no rights without the health and therefore, rights of trees, rivers, and soil, (to name just a few) as our Coastal Salish neighbors, on whose stolen lands, give each of us as part of the WWU community, any opportunity at all, lived and practiced. Why is there no mention of the debts we, who have the audacity to call these lands our home, owe? As I write this, beautiful old languages that were place based are dying. As I write this pollinators we need in order to continue to eat are dying as well. As I write this a man of color is getting arrested. As I write this a woman is getting beaten.

We have more than enough resources to go around. We have more than enough skills. We even have some wise old ones still alive who know how to enact this vision I speak of. We have what it takes to clean up these messes that has been created. It takes vision and courage that centers the EARTH first, NOT its human inhabitants. Wouldn't it be audacious to see a hallowed academic institution, like WWU, begin to walk a walk of radical remembering of what it takes to live in RIGHT relationship with all those around us?

“When the green hills are covered with talking wires and the wolves no longer sing, what good will the money you paid for our land be then”
― Chief Seattle

To remembering that which feeds us, to obligation, and to courage.

With kind regards,
Eleanor Burke
MIT- Secondary Ed, ELA
Woodring College of Education

Eleanor, That was so eloquently and beautifully written and your points were so applicable for where we are today, both at WWU and globally. Thanks for that thoughtful piece.

One of the main reoccurring expenditures students face is textbooks. This may seem like a small issue, but one of the main difficulties students face is financial. Particularly in STEM, it isn't unusual to pay hundreds of dollars for books each quarter. This expenditure is often exasperated by the use of new editions that contain the exact same information as older editions. Additionally, cheaper or even free resources exist online, in cheaper and smaller books, or again, in older editions. From my experience at Western, Instructors/departments often work closely with publishers and tend not to be open or accommodating to the use of alternate reference material. This is a culture I would very much like to see change as the university strives to support its students.

It continuously discourages many of our classified employees as to the inequities presented by the University's double standard of compensation increases. Four percent raises sought for faculty and exempt employees while the University's HR department refuses to bargain beyond what the State allocates for all classified employees, which is known prior to bargaining our contracts, which is a three percent increase. 4% for exempt vs 3% for classified. This hurtfulness of promoting lesser worth does little to encourage a collaborative environment toward a shared greater goal.

I completely agree with your statement. Equitable staff compensation should not be linked to what the state gives general government, but based on what the university is asking for non-classified and faculty compensation. It costs just as much for a classified staff person to live here, and more equity in the pay scale would help greatly. Staff should not be penalized by this institution for being classified.

Dear Sabah,

Compared to many college campus' around the country we have a large amount of compost and recycling bins throughout campus; the library, red square, etc, which is fantastic. However, there are a lack of recycling and (especially) compost bins in most academic buildings (especially the older buildings). Often times when I am in an academic building the only waste disposal I can find is for the landfill. Many people including myself make an effort to wait to dispose of their waste until they can find the proper disposal, but many people do not care to make that effort. If there were more compost bins in these buildings (many of which have none) there would be much less waste going into the landfill that could otherwise be composted or recycled. Given that we live in a state where we have access to commercial composting facilities, it would make a large difference to the health of our planet to have more of these bins on campus rather than only a select few. This is a small change, and I know you have many requests for change, but this would make a large difference for our world given how many people attend Western and are throwing out recycling and compostable items daily. Even simply replacing many trash cans with compost bins would be a great and active start to ensuring that no compostable waste goes to the landfill, especially because a large amount of our waste is compostable. Society makes an assumption that most waste is meant to go to the landfill but due to the higher amount of compostable materials as time goes on, this assumption should be changing to most waste being compostable. Again, I understand how many important requests you have on your plate, but I want this suggestion to be out there for you and others to hear. Thank you for reading.

Dear Sabah,

As the title of this reply suggests, my motivation for responding to your blog post is that graduate students continue to feel marginalized by WWU's policies despite the otherwise laudable actions the University is taking to address the issues you discuss. Here I outline specific concerns that have arisen in my discussions with other stduents, relate them to WWU's strategic plan, and inform you that there are many graduate students that would like to work with you and the administration to help design constructive solutions to our concerns.

In this blog post you suggest that WWU is pursuing equity in compensation:

"Competitive compensation for faculty and staff: In order to retain and attract high quality faculty and staff Western has requested $15.3 million to fully fund negotiated contracts with classified staff and to provide a 4% per year compensation increase for all faculty and professional staff."

The stipend that Graduate TAs receive is not enough to afford rent and food, let alone retain and attract high quality candidates. We currently make approximately $12,000 before taxes. Student fees often cost over $1000 per year (including a fee for access to the health center, which no other University employees are forced to pay). Once taxes and fees are accounted for, this means that the average net TA income is approximately ~$7,500 throughout the entire school year.

Why is WWU raising wages for all employees except TAs?

Yes, graduate TAs also receive a tuition waiver for which we are grateful. However, these are the expectations placed upon TAs in the sciences (estimated time commitment in parentheses):
1) Teach labs, grade assignments (20-25 hrs/wk)
2) Take a minimum course load of 8 credits, B or higher required to remain in program (15 hrs/wk)
3) Work additional jobs to pay rent and buy food (10-30 hrs/wk)
4) Thesis research (whatever time is left)

Overall average time commitment for TAs *before thesis research*: 45-70 hrs/wk

The thesis research is the focus of our education, and it typically requires more time than any other commitment we have as students. So, as you can see above, one of the main reasons for delayed graduated rates of graduate students is the unnecessary financial burden imposed by our miserable stipends. (This delayed graduation rate is the only goal in the specific metrics you cite that are concerned specifically with graduate students - https://provost.wwu.edu/overall-metrics) We are skilled and knowledgable in our fields - if we weren't, we would not be able to secure a TAship in the first place because they are very competitive. We deserve compensation commensurate with our abilities. Low TA stipends subsidize the education of undergraduates at WWU and marginalize our own education because these low stipends mean that we do not have the time to adequately perform all of our academic duties.

Furthermore, graduate students and TAs are an integral part of supporting WWU's primary goal of educating undergraduates. None of the science departments would be anywhere near their current capacity without TAs since we perform the majority of grading and face-to-face teaching in time-intensive lab courses. Graduate students also perform the vast majority of research in those science departments with which I am familiar. We are therefore responsible for supervising the majority of undergraduate research experiences. For example, I have taught over 200 undergraduates in lab courses and have directly supervised the research of 8 undergraduates. We cannot adequately fulfill our role of enhancing the education of undergraduates without a stipend that allows us to focus on our responsibilities at WWU. Instead, as I argued above, almost all graduate students work a an additional job just to make ends meet. As a result, the education of all students at WWU suffers.

Although diversity is one of WWU's primary goals, I do not understand how WWU can expect to recruit a diverse and talented pool of graduate students without offering livable stipends to qualified candidates. Without offering graduate programs that allow students to focus on their education, qualified applicants will look elsewhere. Students who do not have the financial means to support their own education are also unable to attend WWU, further decreasing the diversity of the graduate student body as a direct result of financial burdens placed upon us by the University.

Below I have itemized the specific objectives in WWU's strategic plan that directly apply to the financial burdens placed upon graduate TAs that I have identified above. I am not the only graduate student that feels marginalized and disenfranchised as a direct result of WWU's excessive fees and pathetic TA stipends. Since WWU has already identified these problems as a focus for improvements, it is not clear to me why we are not benefitting from the solutions WWU has begun implementing for these problems. Our needs are not being addressed, and I will not continue to quietly accept whatever scraps the University deigns to throw our way. I do not mean to sound combative; I am only trying to accurately convey that I consider the financial burdens placed upon graduate students by WWU to be entirely unacceptable, especially in light of the wage increases all other employees are receiving.

WWU's strategic plan: https://provost.wwu.edu/files/Strategic%20Plan/final_approved_strategic_...
- Goals 2E, 3A, 3B, 3D, 3E, and 4E -- financial equitability objectives
- Goals 1C, 1D, 1G -- undergraduate training objectives that graduate TAs directly support
- Goals 4B, 4C -- diversity objectives

Sincerely,
Patrick Barnes
barnesp@wwu.edu
Biology Graduate TA

I am in complete agreement with all points laid out by Patrick.

-Cory Hughes
Geology Graduate TA

I'm a third year graduate student in the Biology department that has been TAing every quarter. I would have finished my master's degree on time at the end of my second year if I didn't have to take a second job. I agree with Patrick and would like to see changes made.

I agree. Thank you to Patrick for raising this issue. As a 'teaching school' Western should support ALL of its instructors. Teaching Assistants live at the poverty line and qualify for SNAP benefits from the state. Does this show that Western values its educators?
Thank you for your consideration on this issue.
Rachael Mallon

I agree that the financial issues graduate students are currently facing are not being addressed by the university. I believe the financial burden of living expenses and tuition costs has interfered with the process of learning and completing graduate course work. If some of these expenses/issues can be relieved, then I would be able to devote more time to my thesis and studies.

I agree. I'm a TA and work over 20 hours per week between lesson planning, teaching, and grading. In order to make ends meet, I have to work part-time at a store in downtown Bellingham called Greenhouse. That means I don't have a single day off per week during the school year. Being forced to work an additional job to pay my rent (I live in a house with FIVE other people), means I'm forced to lose tremendous amounts of sleep in order to keep up with my studies. We can do better. There's something wrong with the system where I'm making more money working retail over the summer than teaching and being in charge of a classroom of 24 students per quarter. Please consider a bump in out salaries.

Dear Sabah,
I agree with Patrick. Graduate students are a core part of the inner workings of this university in many of its departments. We teach labs, aid students, and spend countless painstaking hours grading exams and assignments, freeing up professors and NTT to teach and do research. It is becoming increasingly common for universities to provide living, inflation-adjusted wages for their graduate student researchers and teaching assistants, something that Western continues to neglect. Many departments lack the funding to provide support for the entirety of their small cohorts, so many students work additional jobs or incur heavy debt loads trying to further their educations. Graduate students do vital work at this university, and providing more funding to students for teaching and research will only increase these gains and attract competitive candidates that further Western's reputation and contributions to our society and the scientific community. Pay us living wages, and pay more of us for the work that we do. We're college educated and eager to go excellent work.
Kate Welch
TA Environmental Studies Dept.

There are few in the city of Bellingham who can afford to rent and buy groceries on a graduate student's stipend. I would be in support of either increasing our stipends, or ceasing to charge graduate students expensive additional fees, or both.

While the cost of housing in this city has been increasing steadily, it appears that the graduate stipends have not changed to match those increases in the cost of living. Beyond cutting out discretionary spending (which is rather easy when you work 80 hours a week), most of us have to go on food stamps. Affordable housing can be difficult to secure, especially within commuting distance from campus, and often the only affordable rooms involve renting rooms in houses with many other people - leading to further difficulties just trying to get enough sleep when your day starts early and ends late, yet your housemates are up and active during the night.

One of the things that has been endlessly frustrating as a campus-based Environmental Education graduate student has been the complete lack of opportunities I've had to even obtain a TA position, let alone one that pays a fair wage. My program only offers one 1/2 time position per cohort, and I was not the one to be given that position. I've applied to campus-wide positions, as well as asked within the Environmental Studies department, but as that is rather competitive, I have yet to be successful.

Additionally, I spent several hours over the course of MONTHS trying to receive work study (which I am eligible for) to work for my adviser, and despite going so far as giving up part of my financial aid award AND my adviser writing a letter to the student employment office outlining the position I have wanting, I have not been awarded any. This means that as someone who is in what is ostensibly an education program, I have no research assistant experience and literally no teaching experience in my field unless I a) PAY the university for teaching credits or b) work for free. I find this absolutely ludicrous.

I have many frustrations with my education here at Western, and some of them are program specific, but one that has been looming over my head as I prepare to finish this spring is the financial burden. Presumably I would make the same decision again for a number of reasons, but I am not looking forward to completing my education with tens of thousands of dollars in loans to pay back while also not feeling confident that I have gained the skills necessary to either find a job in my chosen field or continue on academically.

I know that Western and the Graduate school can do better to support it's graduate students. What I don't understand is why they don't already.

I agree. The cost of living in Bellingham has increased quite a bit, rent & utilities are barely (if at all) covered by the TA stipend. Covering the extra cost of living takes away from focusing on education. Graduate study and Teaching Assistanships are such an amazing opportunity to grow academically and professionally: it seems important to protect it with a modest but livable stipend.

I agree with all of the statements up above, and want to further point out the steep increase in the cost of living that Bellingham has experienced in the last five years, let alone the last ten when our stipend was last increased. Nobody is suggesting a cushy lifestyle for graduate students but the level of poverty that the current stipend inflicts upon them is pretty shameful. Financial anxiety causes additional undue mental burden upon a group of people who are already mentally struggling and perpetuates extended timelines to graduation. Furthermore, this system enforces postponed graduation but only supports graduate students with TAships for the two years that they're "supposed" to be there before removing priority in lieu of newer students (which also loses them healthcare). Trying to complete a graduate degree when the two options are a.) live out of your car, or b.) work retail and postpone graduation even longer, should not be the reflection of a university that aims to "foster a caring and supportive environment where all members are respected".

I agree with the overall compensation layout that Patrick has described. I work 20 hours a week as a graduate assistant, and am required an internship upon graduation. MBA students take three classes a quarter, making it almost impossible to take on another job. I had to take out additional loans to help pay for my rent and living expenses. Even if the stipend is not increased, I think at minimum the fees associated with tuition should be waved.

An understanding was present upon receiving my acceptance letter to the university that tuition would be covered and "school fees" would be the only remaining cost on my end. What was not written alongside these statements was the harsh burden of expenses reflecting a small town experiencing an influx of population and rising prices that would ultimately place me on government assistance.

Dissecting how much TA's receive in monetary stipends per year/month/day/hour is stunning. Not only are we paid less than the state minimum wage, we are also experiencing a rise in costs associated with living in Bellingham, not to mention the continual increase of university fee amounts, departmental fee amounts, the initiation of the "family leave" deduction program, and the faculty salary increase that seems to always be waived in front of us. It is appalling to receive all this information after enrolling into the program and moving 1,500 miles across the country.

The fact that graduate students need to fight for even the smallest of grievances is a plain reflection of where the heart of this university is. Graduate TA's work their tails off for this university. Administrators are blind to see how late we stay on campus grading papers, prepping for classes we teach, and trying to complete our own work and thesis writing all at the salary of below a living wage and government assistance. Universities that care about their community take care of their community. TA's have more interaction with students than faculty members yet aren't even worth a breath to compare returns granted. I've learned running around like a headless chicken is not worth it here at WWU. At the end of the day I'm still a number that can easily be replaced by someone who is ignorant and financially rigid and can contribute to the conglomerate they call WWU. Nonetheless, nothing in life that is worth comes easy. So we are here as a community of graduate TA's to fight for what is not only right, but due to those who are overlooked.

Department fees are now encroaching into figures that shun many of us in taking a course based on the fee associated with the class. How are you going to charge a student X amount of money for registering in a course for sitting in a chair the entire quarter? External activities are understandable, but not all is justified. Seattle is a city experiencing mass population growth but refuses to provide infrastructure that is needed. WWU is a university experiencing the same transition where graduate students across the nation apply to come here, yet the infrastructure refuses to provide accommodating infrastructure.

We're not here to sob over anything; we are here to do something. Change is apparently rooted in this university, tokens are placed in high places as the face of the school, yet the pivotal, financially important graduate students who provide the funding for faculty, are valueless in the eyes of all who operate the Graduate School.

We all know a union will solve the problems.

I agree with Patrick completely, While I am grateful for my TAship, it is rather insufficient to make ends meet especially when I have family that depend on me.

As a graduate assistant with a strict 20 hr week GA-ship, I am struggling to make ends meet and have taken on debt to cover my expenses. Even though we didn't see a pay increase this year like the rest of the facility, other methods of revenue could come our way that would help resolve this disparity. Despite a full tuition waiver, I still pay over $1000 each quarter in fees. Removing or cutting fees for full and part-time TAs/GAs would be a good start. I was also awarded a scholarship through the school for outstanding academic performance, however, that scholarship was taken away because I was already a full-time GA, which seems unfair considering how hard it is to maintain good grades and work as much as I do for the school. This could be another area to allow for more revenue for high-performing graduate students.

My name is Andrew Crook and I am writing in support of the comments made by Patrick Barnes regarding the compensation of Graduate TA's at WWU.

I am a graduate TA in the English department. I teach a class of 24 students three days a week. My job title is teacher's assistant, but I teach my own class by myself with support from my supervisors and administrators.

I am grateful and humbled by the support my department has given me, but I am disheartened to learn of the University's inability to value their graduate TA's as the essential resource that they are.

I teach my class, I take my graduate classes, I write my thesis, and I barely have money for rent. This isnt how it needs to be.

Please consider us, see us, and allow us the financial security we deserve.

My name is Jo Hurt and I am writing in support of the comments made by Patrick Barnes regarding the compensation of Graduate TA's at WWU.

I am a graduate TA in the English department, a 15-credit/quarter graduate student, and an officer in WWU's English Graduate Association. I teach a class of 24 students three days a week. My job title is teacher's assistant, but I teach my own class by myself with support from my supervisors and administrators. English TAs fall into the lowest TA pay grade, but we are--as far as I know--the only TAs who completely teach our own classes.

I am grateful and humbled by the support and opportunities my department has given me, but I am disheartened to learn of the University's inability to value their graduate TA's as the essential resource that they are.

I teach my class, I take my graduate classes, and I barely have money for rent. This isn't how it needs to be.

Please consider us, see us, and allow us the financial security we deserve.

Hello my name is Hana Shishkarev and I am a second year MA grad student and TA in the English department. It is my understanding that TAs in the humanities are the lowest paid on campus and I feel this is a real injustice considering the work we do at this university.

While my official title is Teacher’s Assistant I am actually the sole instructor listed for the 5 credit GUR composition course I teach (ENG 101). There are 24 students in my class and I correspond with, and evaluate each of them without the help or mediation of any other university faculty. In addition to teaching my class for 4.5 hours every week, I also spend a few hours a week grading my students’ work, and another 3 hours a week meeting with them in my office hours, and building our class canvas site to make it a resource for my student's. It is beyond ridiculous that for all this work I make roughly $12,000 a year AND am expected to pay quarterly fees of $370/quarter on top of paying for my course textbooks. I can barely afford to pay rent in Bellingham on this “salary”.

When I am not teaching I have 10 credits of my own graduate level classes to do reading and homework for so unfortunately I have no time to get a second job to better support myself.

I implore you, please give the future TAs of Western Washington University a livable wage that is commiserate with the current housing market and the cost of living.

Sincerely,

Hana Shishkarev

Hello,

My name is Hannah Newman and I'm currently a Teaching Assistant in the Education department. As part of that position, I teach a full class of students as the primary (and in terms of workload, sole) instructor. Additionally, I facilitate independent studies for multiple students, grade assignments/exams for multiple faculty, and serve as a researcher for the chair of the Special Education department. This is, of course, in addition to my own 10 credit graduate student workload and professional development.

I realize that the science-based graduate students frequently make it known that they have large workloads, but as an MFA student my thesis demands occupy the same time commitment. I genuinely believe that we are navigating the same intensive workload.

While this experience is wonderful in the learning opportunities it presents, it does not come without stress and anxiety, which is only exacerbated by the difficulties created when trying to live on too little money. The sky rocketing housing costs, general utilities/cost of living, and ineffectiveness of our health insurance (its lacks dental/vision coverage, and covers very little in terms of actual services) create massive roadblocks to our ability to a) learn at our fullest potential and b) successfully educate Western's undergraduate students. We can only be stretched so thin.

As such, I implore you to consider raising the stipend rates to a level at which we can live without fear of no food or insufficient funds for educational materials. In fact, I encourage you to try to both raise our rates and improve our insurance. We value education deeply, as graduate students. But at what cost are we supposed to learn?

Thank you for your time and consideration. Best,
Hannah Newman

Hi, I am writing in support of the comments made by Patrick Barnes regarding the compensation of Graduate TA's at WWU.

I am a graduate TA in the English department. I teach a class of 24 students three days a week. My job title is teacher's assistant, but I teach my own class by myself with support from my supervisors and administrators.

I am grateful and humbled by the support my department has given me, but I am disheartened to learn of the University's inability to value their graduate TA's as the essential resource that they are.

I teach my class, I take my graduate classes, I write my thesis, and I barely have money for rent. This isn’t right. I’m a mother of three young children, and I commute five days a week from Everett to Bellingham to teach and attend classes. I have to take out a loan each quarter of over $2100 to pay for my daughter to attend pre-school in addition to money for gas, groceries, and rent so that I can teach in this innovative program in the English Department. Everyone has to take English 101–our compensation needs to reflect that level of value.

Please consider us, see us, and allow us the financial security we deserve.

I agree with Patrick on all accounts. I fortunately am able to keep my TA work just under 20 hrs per week, as do most Huxley TAs. However, the stipend I receive for my work is not sufficient to cover the cost of living in Bellingham. My housing prices have increased 55% in the past three years I have lived here, and not because I have chosen a more glamorous place of residence. My living expenses per month total ~$1150. After student fees, taxes, and health insurance I make ~$950 per month. I pay the remainder of my expenses with life insurance money I received after the death of a close family member. Furthermore, we must continue to pay living expenses over the summer when we do not receive paychecks. Summer jobs are difficult to find in Bellingham, with few skilled jobs seasonally available and competition for unskilled labor high with undergraduates and other residents of Bellingham. Working during the summer is also not possible for many of us, as this is the time to collect field data and attend training programs outside the university. For instance, I will be attending a training program for two weeks in July (for which I received the RSP grant that I am so thankful for) and collecting my field data throughout August--no employer will hire me with such a schedule. I can work some odd jobs throughout summer but my earnings will barely dent my living expenses. Graduate TAs are absolutely essential to most programs here at Western, saving instructors countless hours of work and the University a load of money since we are not paid like instructors. We simply ask that we be given living wages so that we can devote our full effort to our TA assignments, our coursework, and our research.

I chose to live alone because it is critical to my ability to focus on my work. I have one of the lowest rents of anyone I've talked to in the Bellingham area for a single occupancy living situation, and my rent still cost more than I get paid with my TA stipend.

ENVS

I agree with the comment Patrick Barnes made above concerning graduate teaching assistant funding. In the Math and English departments, graduate teaching assistants are COURSE INSTRUCTORS that lecture 5-credit courses solo. Not only do these impressive positions demand sharpness at all times, finesse, and ingenuity, and are performed by graduate teaching assistants remarkably well, but the Math and English teaching assistants serve the entire university by instructing these courses that are required by virtually every major.

Why is it, then, that we are given stipends that put us at a net loss after our bills are paid?

Graduate students are adults who customarily do not rely on their families to support their educations and living expenses. We also already hold college diplomas. We could very well find skilled jobs in the community and in industry that pay fair, comfortable wages, but instead we choose to be here at Western. We could very well find teaching assistantships at different universities around the globe that will pay us a fair wage for our services in our departments. Instead, we choose to continue our educations at Western and we choose to contribute to the education of undergraduate students at Western through teaching assistantships and supervising undergraduates in their research.

Other universities are keeping up with current livable salaries for their graduate teaching assistants. If this monetary insult to graduate students at Western is not remedied in the very near future, you can expect application rates for graduate programs, and especially teaching assistantships, to quickly decline.

Please give us the same respect and decency that you have decided to give all undergraduate employees and faculty at Western.

Sincerely,
Jamie McMullen
Mathematics Graduate TA

I agree. The stipend we currently receive does not cover my basic cost of living including rent, food, internet and energy bills, etc.

I agree with Patrick Barnes and hope that strides are immediately taken to offset the financial burden we as graduate students are currently facing.

I am in full agreement with Patrick's extremely well-put comment. My friends and family are shocked when I describe the financial reality of being a graduate student at Western. I'm currently on food stamps, which involved jumping through several hoops to get, not least of all because HR incorrectly filed my paperwork to DSHS the first time. They made some sort of discrepancy between my "hourly rate" and "projected monthly income" such that DSHS calculated that I didn't work enough hours to be eligible for assistance, which is rather ironic and hilarious if you appreciate that kind of dark humor.

As is clearly demonstrated by all the above comments, Graduate TAs across the board are overworked and underpaid. We prep, teach, and grade three labs per week, while taking classes ourselves and also trying to do our own research. Financial struggles and picking up extra work (when it can even be found) take away from the time spent on our TA, academic, and research duties. The result is diminished quality of our teaching and performance in our classes, and delayed completion of our theses. Then third-year students are punished by losing TA eligibility, health insurance, and office space on campus.

I came to Western because of my academic and research interests. The fact that I'm really, really interested in my research project is what keeps me here despite the fees and other nonsense. None of us realized until we got here that grad students are at the very bottom of the university's priorities. The most recent insult was getting left out of the wage increase for the rest of the faculty and staff. Despite the excellent academics and research opportunities, I honestly cannot recommend Western's graduate program to anyone else, unless the financial situation really changes.

-Eve Lalor, Geology Dept.

I agree, this also affects our work and the potential as to how we can teach our students. Having this burden can easily be removed by increase the financial compensation of graduate students. We are prevented from taking up side jobs and the rent has constantly been rising as well.

I completely agree with the points put forward in this letter and would like to add my own experiences and perspectives. Personally, I'm very fortunate to be able to attend this graduate program, but I know that under any different circumstances it'd be much more difficult or infeasible for me to do so. Just as this letter says, I see myself and so many of my colleagues working extremely hard to balance all the many responsibilities of our studies while also working off-campus jobs in order to be able to afford food, rent, and so on, not to mention tuition and fees.

One of the major challenges I see for my department is that there are many students and comparatively few TA positions for them to work, so these slots are very competitive not a reliable source of financial relief. (Some students are lucky enough to have RA positions, but not all research projects are funded so these, too, are not easy to come by, especially depending on what kind of work a student chooses to specialize in.) Like many of my peers, I work two part-time jobs because I do not have a TAship this quarter. I'm fortunate in that they're decently well-paying positions, but even so I still rely heavily on loans and family contributions to be able to attend school, pay rent, and so on. Personally, I know that without the continued financial backing of my family, there's no way I'd be able to attend this program, despite the amount of additional work I cram into summers, breaks, and so on.

Another corollary of the strict "20 hours per week" contract that we're supposed to follow as TAs is that this prevents us from holding other on-campus positions to supplement our income. So not only do we spend more than the 20 hours of allotted time grading and interacting with students, but we're actively forbidden from continuing employment at the University. This often means additional commuting to off-campus jobs.

Once again, I think the concerns raised above are extremely valid and clearly stated. I know that budgeting and planning are by no means a simple procedure, and that here are many, many constraints and factors to consider, so I don't expect a magic cure and for all these problems to go away overnight. That said, socioeconomic background is a huge factor in determining who does and does not attend higher education programs, and graduate programs should be every much a part of this discussion as undergraduate programs. As this letter points out, Western is striving to improve in many worthwhile and admirable ways, but it seems to have forgotten a portion of the student body in these ambitions.

Thank you for your time and consideration with this issue. I hope that for all the future talented and hard-working graduate students here at Western there is some resolution to these concerns.

Sincerely,

-Noah S
Graduate Student, Computer Science Department

My name is Samantha Bibeau and I am a first-year MA student at Western Washington University.

While I've only been a Viking for a few memorable months, I must say that the most difficult hardship that comes with attending this wonderful university is the financial stress that comes with a considerable low salary for a 20+ hour a week position. As an English 101 TA, I spend the quarter teaching a class of 24 students on my own, I learn all they're names and get to know their personalities, I grade each and every homework assignment and project, and my weekends are filled with lesson planning. I devote my time, energy, and passion into teaching English 101 because I simply love this job, but the pay is less lovable.

It's incredibly disheartening to hear that the English 101 instructors are the lowest paid TA's at Western; and as far as I know we are also the only TA's at Western to completely teach our own classes without another professor in the classroom. By paying the English 101 instructors less than the TA's who don't carry the responsibility of an entire class, you are prioritizing other subjects over English, and this is a shame for the institution and our students. While Patrick Barnes and so many other intelligent and hardworking TA's ask for a pay increase, I merely ask that the English TA's are paid equal to that of the school's other TA's.

Thank you for your time and consideration!
Samantha Bibeau

Sabah,

My name is Destiny Brugman, and I am a first year MA graduate student and TA in the English department. I agree with Patrick.

When applying to come to graduate school, the first thing I became aware of (as I needed to seek funding to further my education) was that our of all of the TAs at Western, TAs in the humanities are the lowest paid on campus. This, along with the staggering funds all TAs receive does not serve the work we do on this campus or how we act as professionals representing Western Washington University in our own research and publication efforts during our time here.

As a Teacher’s Assistant in the English department, I find it important to know that I run my own class of 24 students three times a week for 80 minutes— this class (ENG 101) is a 5 credit GUR composition course I teach which is required for almost all students to take. Outside of typical class hours, I am communicating with students who student within various disciplines to assist them in understanding how they can use the skills we work on in my class in their future classes at WWU. In ENG 101, we cultivate a community based around communication and writing in a way that better prepares students for their time at WWU. When we aren’t in the classroom, I’m corresponding with students via email or office hours to help them better understand what we are doing in this class and how we can better cater their experience in my class to the experiences they will have in future classes here at WWU.

I am so grateful to the support and experience I am receiving from my department, and humbled by my luck to study at this wonderful institution, but it is often hard to make ends meet. I take out loans to cover the $370 worth of fees, food throughout the quarter, and other school related expenses such as textbooks. Rent in Bellingham is hefty with limited options that I can afford on the budget, so I use this loan money to help me get by month-to-month and still focus on my studies and career goals. As many (if not most) graduate students, I am completely separated from my family’s money and have never had their financial support in my education. I am a first generation graduate student, and as neither of my parents have a college degree and I’ve spent my time growing up in a financially tight space, my family has never been able to offer me any financial help. In addition to this, I do not have a spouse or partner to supplement my income in any way, so I am left to budget everything for myself and hope that no unexpected medical expenses pop up. Then, over the summers, many of us are forced to take on multiple jobs to continue to live in Bellingham in preparation for the following year(s) of graduate school.

In addition to being an instructor of ENG 101, I take 10 credits of intensive graduate level classes. For me, this means that in order to prioritize my studies, I cannot hold a second job on the side and must sacrifice my well-being (nutrient and health related typically) to maintain the work I do at and for this university.

I hope that you consider our concerns and look forward to hearing more from you at my time at Western. I appreciate you taking the time to listen to our concerns and hope to continue to create and participate in the wonderful communities (and particularly the wonderful English TA community) we have here at Western in my time here. I can’t wait to see the way you work with us to move Western forward into a more sustainable and welcoming place that we can afford to be apart of.

Sincerely,

Destiny Brugman
English Department
Western Washington University

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